Gimme Shelter: The Role of Books in Providing a Safe Space to Examine Society

Read this exclusive guest post from author Rio Youers, then make sure you're signed in and comment below for a chance to win a copy of his latest horror-thriller, Halcyon!

Mick Jagger sings that a storm is threatening, that a fire is sweeping, that war is just a shot away. The lyrics to “Gimme Shelter” were penned in 1969 in response to the Vietnam War and to an altogether troubling era in the world’s history. It’s a political song and a very dark song. Apocalyptic, even. But an artist’s creativity is his or her emotional outlet. The Stones created a shelter within this song, and they share it with their audience.

Here we are, nearly 50 years later. At the time of writing this, President Trump is on the verge of a trade war with China, and children are being separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border. The top three hardcover fiction titles on the New York Times bestseller list are The President is Missing by James Patterson and Bill Clinton, The Outsider by Stephen King, and Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts. All fall into the thriller/suspense category. The latter deals with the aftermath of a mass shooting outside a mall.

We still need shelter.

We’ll always need shelter.

This is not a political essay. I want to put that out there right away. This is a post about the beauty and power of books and how, in this uncertain time, we need great storytelling more than ever. A novel is an escape hatch—an infallible way to leave the real world behind, to assume the life of another and adopt their strengths and travails as if they were our own. But a good novel is also a shelter, which is not the same as an escape; a shelter keeps us safe while enabling us to look at and understand the things from which we take shelter.

Strong storytelling, from The Power of Sympathy to The Outsider, provides the reader with armor, and even when the story has ended, the armor remains. We, the readers, are more prepared for what the real world will throw at us because good fiction conditions the soul. This is true across all genres because storytelling adopts a common thread. The basic structure of nearly every novel is: 1) Introduce protagonist; 2) Protagonist encounters challenge; 3) Protagonist endeavors to overcome challenge. Yeah, I know there’s more to it. There’s worldbuilding and characterization and blah-blah-blah. But when you strip it down to the bare bones, these three points prevail, and always with a focus on challenge. Whether you’re reading Toni Morrison or Dean Koontz, it’s the challenge—be it heartache or the boogeyman—that draws us, as well as observing how the protagonist deals with it.

We like how that armor feels.

Halcyon by Rio Youers

My new novel, Halcyon, asks questions about shelter and escape. Is it better to run from our problems or face the battle head-on (a question that a lot of Americans have been asking in the last 18 months or so)? After a personal tragedy, my main character, Martin Lovegrove, moves his family to a remote island community. At the same time, his 10-year-old daughter withdraws to a make-believe world to protect herself from the terrible premonitions that invade her mind. Obviously, it wouldn’t be much of a story if they all lived happily ever after (remember what I said about the reader being drawn to the challenge?). Therefore, Martin discovers that the utopia-like community of Halcyon isn’t as idyllic as he’d been led to believe, and things quickly take a dark turn.

It’s a no-holds-barred story featuring an average American family trying to exist in a country they barely recognize. It deals with political unrest, social division, and domestic terrorism. The America I bring to the page is a hurting place. It’s blisteringly honest yet somehow hopeful. Early reviews have been positive, and more than one has used the phrase “ripped from the headlines.” There exists, then, an interesting parallel between the reader and the novel’s characters: do I really want to confront this, or should I look the other way? In other words, why read a novel about the dark side of America when the real world is just a shot away?

I defer in this to another of Halcyon’s characters, an elderly and wonderfully eccentric psychic named Calm Dumas (I imagined her as the improbable love child of Mr. Miyagi and Tangina Barrons from Poltergeist). “We can’t nurture our souls from a distance,” she says to Martin Lovegrove at one point. “We get stronger when we overcome.”

Good fiction encourages us to examine not only beauty and triumph but pain and tribulation too. I am reminded of a wonderful quote from Coraline by Neil Gaiman, “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” A beautiful observation, and so very true; stories—not just fairy tales but all stories—help us to overcome. And in this intoxicating age of social media, when everything is being crammed down our throats, it’s more important than ever to take shelter—to look at the world from a place of protection. Only then can we deconstruct … understand.

And yes, there’s a place for escape, to retract from the world absolutely with no agenda beyond freedom. A good novel will give us this too. A good novel is a portal. It is a guardian. It will galvanize and educate.

In 1969, Mick Jagger sang that a storm is threatening, that a fire is sweeping. Nearly 50 years later, the storm is deeper and the fire rages higher.

Fortunately, we’ll always have books to keep us from fading away.

Read an excerpt from Halcyon!

Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Halcyon by Rio Youers!

To enter, make sure you’re a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

Halcyon Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/gimme-shelter-the-role-of-books-in-providing-a-safe-space-to-examine-society-comment-sweepstakes beginning at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) July 9, 2018. Sweepstakes ends at 2:59 p.m. ET July 24, 2018. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

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Comments

  1. Tracy Robinson

    I love the place of utopian literature in society; in times of political and/or moral upheaval, these are the tales that draw us. This is not new (think Sir Thomas More’s Utopia), and I believe that this continuance speaks to the power of literature. Great article.

  2. Lisa Goldschmidt

    A thoughtful and eloquent essay – captures beautifully how books are so much more than mere entertainment. Thank you for reinforcing the many roles books can play in our lives if we invest a little time in them. (And Halcyon is AWESOME by the way, as are all of Mr. Youers’ novels.)

  3. Robin Barker

    This is a great article. In uncertain times in America and across the pond where I live escapism is essential, but shelter is equally as important. I can’t wait to read this book. As a side note I have a friend called Martin Lovegrove (a very unusual name to choose which makes it all the more intriguing) will have to try and not imagine it’s my friend in the narrative.

  4. Karl Stenger

    I would love to read the book.

  5. AshlyC

    This sounds like a really good book

  6. John Smith

    Great cover!

  7. anne

    A novel which I would enjoy greatly.

  8. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  9. Linda Marshall

    Great quote from Neil Gaiman. I’m glad I read the article by Youers and that he used that quote. Look forward to reading his books.

  10. Lori P

    Very interesting questions posed, which no doubt enhance the intended effect. Need hope that we can overcome!

  11. katevocke

    this sounds like a really, really cool book! thanks for the chance!

  12. carloshmarlo

    I think we can all see the topical nature of this book and other recent bestsellers. Thanks for the chance to win a copy.

  13. Diane Seitz

    Great article! The book sounds like it would be a thrill to read.

  14. Sara M Lontcoski

    It sounds great.

  15. Karen Mikusak

    Would love to win!

  16. susan beamon

    I have always liked that quote, from different people in slightly different wording. It shows the power of stories and why we want them so much. Everyone has stories.

  17. Michael Carter

    I’d love to win.
    Please enter me in this sweepstakes.
    Thanks!

  18. Mary Woods

    It would be so easy to escape but that wouldn’t be remaining true to myself……RESIST!!

  19. Lynette Thompson

    This sounds like a great book, I love a good thriller for sure.

  20. ViolinGeek

    Sounds like and interesting and thought provoking read, considering the article.

  21. luvlife4ever24

    Thanks for sharing. Awesome cover!

  22. Janet Gould

    Great article.

  23. Jackie Wisherd

    Would enjoy reading this book.

  24. Carol Ezovski

    This sounds like a really intense book. I think I would really like it!
    digicats {at} sbcglobal {dot} net

  25. L

    Enjoyed the article. Would love to read the book, too.

  26. SUSAN GANNON

    thanks for the chance to win

  27. Andrew Gordon

    Looks like a great read.

  28. David Basile

    Sounds like a good one

  29. Corina Villalpando
  30. Corina Villalpando

    Sound very interesting, love the cover

  31. Marisa Young

    Interesting post – would like to read the author’s book.

  32. Evelyn

    sounds greatq

  33. lynn clayton

    i love the cover this looks like a really good book

  34. Mary Gilles

    This is just what I want to read this summer! Can’ wait to get it.

  35. HESTER MAYO

    Looks like a great beach read!

  36. Cara

    Sounds great!

  37. Marianna H Ballard

    Sounds like a good read!

  38. Mandy Schisler

    “We still need shelter.

    We’ll always need shelter.” If that isn’t truth, I don’t know what is.

  39. Toni A Laliberte

    Sounds like a great book! Thanks for the chance!

  40. Stephanie L Nelson

    This book sounds fantastic!

  41. Vicki Andrew

    sounds interesting, really liked the cover

  42. Linda Peters

    this would a great read, before the whole world goes into chaos

  43. MaryC

    Great article – thanks for the chance to win a copy.

  44. vicki wurgler

    thanks I would love to read this book

  45. Troy Knutson

    Rio is the best. Westlake Soul is the bomb and each novel he writes is better and better!

  46. Karen Terry

    I think that reading books is a safe place where you can read about new and interesting things without fear of being judged.

  47. CalenWinner

    Looks like a very interesting read.

  48. Christal Mormann

    Would love to read

  49. Susan Marshall

    Wow! This sounds really good and so different from anything I’ve ever read. Thanks for the chance

  50. Susan Morris

    I love reading thrillers, and this sounds like a great one!

  51. Melissa Keith

    I so badly need to seek shelter in HALCYON. 😉 Can’t wait to meet Mother Moon…….

  52. John Davis

    I find stories that balance between good and evil, in delightfully impish ways, quite satisfying.

  53. Jennifer A Connolly

    Intrigued by the cover alone. Nice choices.

  54. shannon calvin

    Life intimating art ? OR Art intimating fiction? Can’t wait to read

  55. Peter W. Horton Jr.

    Where is safe? Yes!

  56. pat murphy

    Thank you for the chance to win , sounds great .

  57. Janet West

    We all want shelter from real life, but sometimes we don’t get the shelter we want.

  58. Laura Shangraw

    This book sounds very good.

  59. AstridJ

    I am ready for a new read!

  60. Philip Lawrence

    As a Vietnam veteran, I definitley remember the origins of Gimme Shelter so I would like to read about finding shelter and escape.

  61. Karen Hester

    We all need shelter now

  62. Robert Grieco

    Looks to be one helluva goodread!

  63. Joyce Benzing

    Interesting.

  64. Denise S

    I’d love to read this.

  65. 1BookWorm

    The article was a great read and I cannot wait to get into Halcyon ASAP!!!

  66. Linda Leonard

    It’s so true . . . books can give us strength and if needed, provide us with an escape.

  67. susan smoaks

    i would love to read this. it looks like a great book.

  68. Leela

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  69. Daniel M

    sounds interesting

  70. Sab Edwards

    I’ve read a lot of good things on blogs about ths book

  71. Brenda Elsner

    Sounds interesting!!! Would love to read it!!

  72. Marylynn Hayes

    Very interesting topic, I would love to read!

  73. Daniel M

    would love to check it out

  74. Daniel Vice

    This looks great

  75. Tricha Leary

    This sounds great! I would love to read it

  76. Shannon Baas

    Looks like an interesting book.

  77. Beverly Metcalf
  78. Roel Saenz

    Looks awesome. Thank you for the chance!

  79. Christopher Sidor

    As an aspiring author, reading books like this is a great chance to improve my skills…!

  80. julie hawkins

    I would like to read this book.

  81. Sand Lopez

    Sounds like a good one!

  82. Kriss

    Books, stories, many forms of literature play important roles in my live. In two days I am getting a new tattoo…a character named Death from stories by Neil Gaiman. Since I was a child I have escaped into books when my life was too much for me to handle. Right now while in the midst of protests (and here I thought I had missed out on the sixties) and a feeling of despair about our country, life and the future, I welcome a new respite. Hopefully, that will be this book.

  83. Buddy Garrett

    I enjoyed reading the very interesting post. The book sounds like a great read.

  84. JULES M.

    Sounds interesting. thank you for the chance! 🙂

  85. Lily Kwan

    Thanks for the great giveaway!

  86. Gwen Ellington

    I would like to read a movie-inspired book rather than vice verse.

  87. Andrew Beck

    Rio raises some interesting points in his essay. I especially like the notion of finding shelter in a challenging book that grabs your interest so much that for a few hours the outside world disappears and you’re not thinking of Trump or Iran or Russia or where your next paycheck or invitation is coming from. Books are a great, safe refuge (for the most part) that can massage the brain in such a comfortable, rewarding way that even some of your near-obsessive thinking can dissipate at least for a good chunk of pages!

  88. lasvegasnv

    interesting

  89. Peter W. Horton Jr.

    I need a copy! Yes!

  90. Shannon I.

    Your essay is very thought-provoking! In comment, I think I oftentimes need a temporary escape, but I try very hard not to stay immersed in escapism. We all have to “face the music” at some point and keeping one’s head in the sand for too long spells trouble, in my opinion.

    Expanding on my comment, I do think brief escapism (if feasible) can be of great value. While it can be good to immediately face things head on, all systems go…there is a risk there.

    The risk by jumping in right away is there is no time for repose on the matter, which is important (again, if feasible). The risk is that one rushing in is a risk of missing the forest for the trees. The forest is the matter/concern and, like all forests, it is made up of individual trees.

    Rushing without any “escapism,” stepping back for a bit, is that you miss the forest for the trees. Missing the forest for the trees is an untenable position to put one’s self in. One cannot see the overall matter and assess rationally because they cannot see the forest, as they are staring and engrossed in trees. One missed the forest for the trees.

    It’s a saying I learned in law school. Comes up when one flunks their final exam, lol.

    Your book sounds fascinating…thank you for the giveaway!

    Shannon I.

  91. Jean Feingold

    Scary – just like the world today.

  92. HESTER MAYO

    Fascinating read!!

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